Napoleon (2023)

3.3 of 5 from 83 ratings
2h 38min
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"Napoleon" is a spectacle-filled action epic that details the checkered rise and fall of the iconic French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, played by Oscar-winner Joaquin Phoenix. Against a stunning backdrop of large-scale filmmaking orchestrated by legendary director Ridley Scott, the film captures Bonaparte's relentless journey to power through the prism of his addictive, volatile relationship with his one true love, Josephine (Vanessa Kirby), showcasing his visionary military and political tactics against some of the most dynamic practical battle sequences ever filmed.
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Mark Huffam, Ridley Scott, Kevin J. Walsh
David Scarpa
Action & Adventure, Drama
BAFTA Nominations Competition 2024
Released in Cinema:
Run Time:
158 minutes
English Dolby Atmos
DVD Regions:
Region 2
Aspect Ratio:
Widescreen 2.39:1

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Reviews (3) of Napoleon

Excellent Epic Biopic - Napoleon review by PV

Spoiler Alert

This is a PROPER film - epic in scope and scale. A major achievement.

It is hard to squeeze in such a huge eventful life into just over 2 hours - the Battle of The Nile when Nelson beat the French to gain control of much of Egypt is left out entirely (but is why Brits got the antiquities found by the French like the Rosetta Stone now in the British museum, though the French found it as rubble in a wall as the natives did not care about their culture before the Arab empire invaded and made them Muslim).

Still, maybe we need a film called NELSON to dramatise that. I liked the scenes in Egypt anyway. No sure of the truth of the pyramid scene (no spoilers).

Did I enjoy it as much as GLADIATOR? No. But that is personal bias. I was not interested much in military TV drama like SHARPE either.

Phoenix plays Napoleon well and the predictable moaning of historians esp the French piqued that a Brit has made this should be ignored - this is DRAMA so has to concertina events together in symbolic scenes. It is not documentary (and they are all biased anyway in one way or another).

Generally a great epic film, and the battle scenes deserve watching several times.

Many praise the true scene at Austerlitz (modernday Czech Republic) where Napoleon famously fired cannons at a frozen lake on which Russians were retreating - in real life 200-2000 died. THAT scenes is nicked wholescale from an earlier NAPOLEON film, I think the 1960 one though maybe even the late 1920s silent version.

So 4 stars overall.

2 out of 2 members found this review helpful.

Big Historical Epic - Napoleon review by GI

Spoiler Alert

Epic, spectacular and rich in visual detail as you'd expect with a Ridley Scott film. Indeed it's both beautiful and harrowing in equal measure with the battle scenes grittily realistic but simply riveting to watch. Joaquin Phoenix inhabits the titular role and manages to deal effectively with Napoleon as a young man through to late middle age without the need for any de-aging processes to be used. This is a full scale biopic of the legendary French military genius and self proclaimed Emperor who rose to power off the chaos of the Revolution to become a European conqueror and whilst there are extended battle scenes particularly of the recapturing of Toulon, the battle of Austerlitz and finally Waterloo. These are all executed with Scott's usual panache for the grand scale but the film becomes more intimate in its focus off the dysfunctional relationship with the aristocrat Josephine (Vanessa Kirby). Kirby is mesmerising in the part but the script shies away too much from her and concentrates on Napoleon's flawed, child like approach to love and sex. This I found left me wanting although this is clearly Pheonix' film and he dominates as the man who rose to power but was undone by his own ego. There has been the expected controversies over historical accuracy that Scott has been quick to attack and I admit some of them did rile me somewhat but for anyone unfamiliar with the actual history this won't matter but be advised there are glaring inaccuracies so this must be treated as drama based on rather than an accurate portrayal. Definitely worth seeing on the biggest screen you can as this is a film to savour for its rich spectacle and detail. Not Scott's best but a cinematic treat all the same.

1 out of 1 members found this review helpful.

Despite great production values & good performances, this is fairly mediocre stuff - Napoleon review by TB

Spoiler Alert

Ridley Scott shows no signs of slowing down. Aged 85, he is producing/directing multiple films, sometimes 2 in a year. There is absolutely no question that he is one of our greatest living directors & one of the best filmmakers of all time. His latest offering is one that absolutely has massive scope & ambition, but sadly is not one which I was able to immerse myself in.

The film looks at the life of Napoleon, charting both his rise up to become King of France, as well as his tumultuous & difficult personal life, through the lens of his marriage to Joséphine. Napoleon's victory on the battlefield means that he is celebrated and revered by the people, carefully positioning himself within the plotting elements of the overthrowers of the French parliament. But as the years go by, his grip on power starts to weaken...

In terms of spectacle and showmanship, no-one can hold a candle to Scott's ability of constructing a film. Whether it's an action epic like Gladiator or a more "talky" film like The Counsellor, his direction is both assured and strong. However, one comment about his work that I heard a few years ago & rings most true was "Scott is only as good as the script he is working from." And in the case of Napoleon, this gets to the heart of the problem: when watching this, I never was a part of the story, I always felt like an observer looking in.

When I compare this film to The Counsellor, it is literally night and day in terms of watching experience. With Counsellor, I felt like I was in the room, right in the thick of the conversation & feeling the threats from all around baring down upon me, the tension crackling like electricity. With Napoleon on the other hand, I just felt like I was on the outside looking in, no more than a casual observer, with the occasional moment where the story gripped me.

The performances are also a mixed bag, none more so than Joaquin Phoenix's. In an on the record interview, Scott described Phoenix coming to him 2 weeks before shooting started in a panic, saying "I don't know what to do." And that is so clearly shown in his performance. Phoenix looks lost, overwhelmed & completely out of his depth. Forget Commodus from Gladiator, this is a totally different kettle of fish. However, I also feel that, because of the poor quality of the script, I don't know any actor who could actually have made the film any better.

The same cannot be said for Vanessa Kirby. She is, by a country mile, the best part of this film. She dominates the screen for every single second she is on it, grabbing our attention & really making us feel her pain. From her opening moments fleeing prison after being released, through to the pain of her inability to conceive a child & heir for her husband, she is magnificent and electric. Her performance is also one which unintentionally draws more attention to how out of his depth Phoenix is in this film.

The supporting characters are also a mixed bag. Ian McNiece makes a humourous impact as Louis XVIII, plus there is a welcome cameo from Miles Jupp as well. But there is also not much in the way of story to really allow anyone else to shine apart from the leads.

But there are some great moments, none more so than the Battle of Austerlitz, a stunningly shot & horribly brutal battle. The battle of Waterloo is also stunningly shot & brilliantly staged.

However, this sadly for me was never more than a 3 star film. Yes it's great to see Phoenix & Scott back working together, plus it is wonderful that Scott was given an enormous budget to work with. But unfortunately this doesn't mean that the end product is great, however much I wanted it to be.

Here's hoping Scott can be given another massive budget soon, alongside a decent script, to show how phenomenal a director he can be.

0 out of 0 members found this review helpful.

Critic review

Napoleon review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso

Ridley Scott’s Napoleon approaches the subject of the French leader with a scattershot cannon method. He loads up his picture with plenty of detailed costumes, battles, and lingering moments of political intrigue among flawed characters. The result is a mild misfire, but one worth the shot considering the areas it tries to probe, and sometimes manages to pull off an entertaining historical epic.

Joaquin Phoenix decently plays Napoleon himself as a man of quiet calculation and an ego that sometimes comes out to play. There’s something to be said of how passively Phoenix portrays the character, where the wheels turn in his head while watching the beheading of Marie Antoinette. He cautiously takes steps towards moving up the ranks in the new French regime, taking charge against the British in a brutal scaling of walls. As the French rule crumbles, Napoleon only ascends further. As he seeks to conquer more territory, he also wants to conquer Joséphine (Vanessa Kirby), the woman who might birth him an heir. Unfortunately, Napoleon’s inadequacies in the bedroom make this prospect one that won’t go as far as his campaign.

The film darts between Napoelon’s many battles and his quiet egotism behind closed doors. On the battlefield, he wields armies to make tactical calls of cutting off escapes on ice and cornering forces where they bunch up most. But for as much as Napoleon believes he’s making progress, the constant loss of soldiers and the more intelligent strategies of the enemy make it clear that he’s not the ideal emperor for his country. He can whip up troops to follow him into battle, but they’ll follow a man responsible for some of the largest casualties.

Scott's battle sequences are masterful in what is sure to be the biggest selling point of the film. They’re loaded with dozens of extras, explosions, and gruesome deaths with blood spilling on the battlefield. Everything from trapping forces on an ice lake to being cornered in Waterloo is intense and exciting. They’re shot with great detail and scope that brings this aspect of history to life. That said, it parallels oddly with the more dramatic moments of Napoleon’s politics that are treated in a manner so dry that it feels as though Phoenix seems so passive he nearly falls asleep; debatable whether or not this was intentional in some scenes.

What might surprise some is how funny the film can be at times. In trying to skewer the life and death of Napoleon, some moments are so absurd they catch you off guard. Highlights include Napoleon’s feuding about his legacy earning him food and his sex with Joséphine being laughably short. These moments are brief, however, and they are present in a manner that almost feels like their breaks in the monotony of the stuffy costume drama in the decadent interiors. One can only imagine if there are more laughs or lulling in the director’s cut that warrant these lesser moments when compared to the epic-level war scenes.

Napoleon is not a great film by Ridley Scott, but it is certainly one of his more intriguing efforts at composing a historical epic. It takes its time to explore various angles and sometimes turns out something a little profound. The performances of Joaquin Phoenix and Vanessa Kirby are decent, but not all of their scenes fire as powerfully as they feel they could. It’s a good-looking film, for sure, and hopefully, the director’s cut is a far better film. Scott has pulled this off before with his superior cut of Kingdom of Heaven, which might be the case with Napoleon, considering there’s at least an hour removed from the theatrical cut.

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